Flapping around in the midst of the EU referendum fallout, the Conservative Party is currently enduring what may only be the start of a lengthy spell of political turbulence. Prevailing volatility amongst raging factions of Remainers and Brexiteers has shown that the UK’s recent vote has failed to eradicate the tense mood which currently shrouds the Tory party. Stranded at the epicentre of the Brexit wreckage, the Tories have been left broken and despairing. June’s ballot has certainly not put an end to the Conservatives party’s epidemic of quarrelling, and future success for the party looks to be considerably far out of reach.
The European Union isn’t the only source of the UK government’s quandaries, though. In a vetting process originally set to take at least ten weeks, David Cameron’s successor has been rapidly selected in just three. Upon the surprising victory for Vote Leave, it were former Mayor of London Boris Johnson who was originally tipped to succeed the now disposed of Cameron.
After a rather uncharacteristically serious stint as co-frontman for the Vote Leave campaign alongside Michael Gove, a large proportion of the Tory party believed that it were Boris who had proven himself worthy of leadership. But Gove’s crafty moves to undermine Johnson in the party leadership contest were relatively successful. His cunning decision to run against Johnson – an act described by many as treachery – has certainly prevented Boris from mapping the Conservatives’ direction in the short term.
Last week, most thought that Boris Johnson was finished, and that he may never hold any more influential party position than that of a constituency MP. But the prominent blondie may well come back to widen the Tory party’s divide in months and years to come – especially during or following the incumbency of newly-appointed Theresa May.
Yesterday, it were instead she, the former Home Secretary, who triumphantly stood in front of Number 10, ready to colonise Westminster with her distinctly formidable demeanour and uncompromising approach to decision-making. Today, May pressed on with the hand-picking of her new political arsenal. Mrs May’s cabinet has seen many a surprising appointment, however, including – rather controversially – that of the Boris Johnson who is now Britain’s foreign secretary.
One of the politicians deemed most responsible for the great rift which has sprung up in the middle of the Tory party now sits in one of the most important positions in politics. But seated underneath the watch of Theresa May means that Johnson will be, to an extent, constrained. Everyone knows that Boris is a careerist and has dreams of the Tory party leadership. Theresa May’s tactics remain to be seen, but, needless to say, Mrs May will be keen to dissociate herself from Johnson’s politics which could subvert her much-needed authority.
But it is Mrs May who has the upper hand now. It is she who has the power to decide the fate of Boris Johnson. Will he be a successful foreign secretary, bolster his standing within the party, continuing to stoke the still red hot coals of the Eurosceptics’ campfire? Or will the new Prime Minister user her iron fist to manoeuvre Johnson off her path, clamping down on his sizeable realm of support?
By promoting Boris Johnson, who will surely be one of her government’s most prolific ministers, Theresa May could possibly have made a fatal error. Despite only a marginal win for Vote Leave, Brexit generated not only wide support for cutting ties with the European Union, but also for Boris Johnson himself. Today’s cabinet announcements include six Brexiteers – six individuals who still advocate for the views of the Tories’ large Eurosceptic, more libertarian base.
Herein lies the problem. In the event that the popularity of Mrs May begins to wane, the grounds for Boris Johnson to become the backseat driver of this government could look strong. Providing Boris Johnson with such stature could come back to kick Mrs May, and could be detrimental to the stability of her brand new premiership.
On the other hand, allowing Boris Johnson to have a degree of political ammunition is a somewhat clever move. Undoubtedly, Boris’ careerism and ambition to work his way into the top seats of government still exists. Keeping the man who has the power to be most divisive in the cabinet forces a great deal of responsibility upon him.
His ability to largely manage the UK’s global affairs, and, needless to say, implement the Brexit for which he so desperately advocated, shows that sympathy is not one of Theresa May’s defining characteristics as a politician. If the operation of leaving the European Union backfires, it will not be Mrs May who takes the blame. And, of course, an ability to broker deals and negotiate with international neighbours is essential for truly great politicians.
Should Boris Johnson fail to become a hit with the rest of the world’s biggest economies, the future premiership hopeful’s reputation will be destroyed. Currently, his global record isn’t wholly clean, having made several offensive remarks in relation to other cultures, prompting worldwide hostility. Johnson was booed at a French press conference today, is reportedly hated in Brussels, and many Germans cannot believe Boris’ new status. Judging by Theresa May’s ‘take no prisoners’ attitude to government, Boris Johnson and his future chances will be eaten alive by his fellow party members should he make detrimental diplomatic blunders.
Albeit considerably better organised, the Tory party is still precariously balanced upon the controversy of issues relating to the European Union, immigration, and the only very recently more earnest Boris Johnson. Prime Minister Theresa May has made the decision to feed Mr Johnson the power for which he eternally begs, but keeping Boris at bay is vital to the stability of her leadership. Gaffes, policy rejection, and rebellion could result in a challenge to her leadership just as messy as that carried out by Gove towards Johnson.
Theresa May has shown in the past that she is a formidable leader. She is one of few Home Secretaries to emerge from the position with their reputation unscathed enough to battle on in the cabinet. With the right foresight and meticulousness, Mrs May could indeed revive the Tory party to its former robustness. As the internal lining of the Conservative party fabric is now close to tearing, it is vital that stitches it back together, with Theresa May pushing her cabinet ministers and backbenchers into line with her tough approach – especially Boris Johnson.
UK politics has never before been so Machiavellian, based on opportunism, and required such precise tactics. If the nation’s new Prime Minister shows any signs of flinching, those on the other side of the Tory party will surely squirm their way out of their muzzles immediately, Boris Johnson clenching the reins. Theresa May had better have had her game plan drawn up weeks ago. The careerism and ambition of Boris Johnson has certainly not been halted, but the Prime Minister must fast minimise it. Clever manipulation by Mrs May of her internal opponents is what will veer them away from her new political stomping ground. Johnson is the Prime Minister’s biggest threat, but whether or not he will be a success or a failure is her call.